Photos by Andrew Blanton
Show Review: American Highways.org
There’s a feeling one gets under the spotlight that makes you shake in your boots, where the hardwood floor squeaks with every step in the silence and every breath you take projects into the darkness in stereo.
The Redbird Listening Room in New Braunfels has a way of producing that vulnerable feeling for more artists than I could count. Each artist receives a level of respect from the audience that only a listening room provides, that they think they’ve been waiting for only to recognize the notoriety this homegrown stage has received in only a few short years. Some of the greatest Hill Country songwriters have left their mojo on this stage and there’s an energy floating around the walls that is unlike any other venue I’ve attended. If musicians ever received a gallery showing, this is it.
Joel Hofmann brings decades of experience from the banks of the Guadalupe River as he takes the stage with Big John Mills on lead guitar. Hofmann, owner of the historic Riley’s Tavern that has hosted dances since the mid-1800s, has a commanding stature that cuts through the pressure as he tells stories of family and picks old western ballads with ease.
“I spent my last dollar just to get here, my suitcase and hopes in my hand,” Hofmann sings. “Each story of a soul of each miner who struck gold tell me this could be my promised land.”
The search for a new life told through the eyes of a prospector parallels the lifestyle of a songwriter in so many ways, always seeking adventure and the one break that could change everything.
“I will stake, stake my claim. ‘Til the day fate calls my name. How it’s gonna glisten, how it’s gonna shine when I finally see the gold I’m bound to find,” Hofmann sings. “This Gold Rush Town is the only thing I’ve found where prayer will find its answer deep in the ground.”
“Gold Rush Town” is reminiscent of Marty Robbins and the great western songs of the twenty-first century.
“Y’all don’t have to be totally quiet,” Hofmann says as the audience laughs, “since we’re all kind of in the same family here. I don’t care if I hear beers opening or a little laughter, a little whisper here and there.” There’s this suffocating pressure that just owns this room regardless of the experience of the performer, like your gripping the wheel on a mountain without any brakes.
“Here’s one I wrote a long time ago,” Hofmann said as he led into a song about his country heroes. “I don’t quite feel as bad about the state of country music right now as I did then, but here’s how I felt a decade or so ago.”
The song speaks of how two key figures, John Wayne and Jesus, shaped Hofmann’s upbringing and goes on to wonder what Hank Williams would think of our music today.
“Sometimes I think about quitting and shutting this thing down,” Hofmann sings, “selling off all my gear and moving on out of town. But I get to thinking ‘maybe not this year, If I don’t sing these songs nobody will get to hear the legends of our past, how they’ve all about disappeared.’”
Mills and Hofmann tell jokes between songs, teasing our neighbors to the north and wondering why they even put FM radios in cars today. Hofmann quiets down the audience with the heartfelt “Daughters” as his loved ones looked on.
“I wrote that song about my daughter Abby and now she’s like a teenager back there, she’s rolling her eyes,” Hofmann said. “So Abby, remember that if you’re ever in a bad spot in your life that’s how I feel about you, so you can always come to me for anything… and quit rolling your eyes. I can see you even in the dark back there.”
Big John Mills played beautiful melodies throughout the evening, and gave some tongue-in-cheek advice for aspiring musicians.
“They’re called Snarks,” Mills said about the popular guitar tuners, “don’t ever buy one. I gave all mine away to people that didn’t know any better.”
“You’re not that mean,” Hofmann responded, “to me anyway.”
Mills coined a new title for the aging musician in the upbeat blues song “Retro.”
“I’m not getting old, I’m just retro,” Mills sings. “Everything I own’s coming ‘round and it’s back in style.”
Mark Nelson was on hand painting watercolors of the artists as he does every Thursday at the weekly songwriter’s night. The special attention given to the performer in this remodeled home has built their name so quickly. You really feel that respect from the staff for the hard work you’ve put in while performing at the Red Bird LIstening Room.
“It’s fun to sing in here” Hofmann said. “Thank you guys for coming and being here and being up close and personal with us. This is why this place is such a good vibe. We need a balance of bars and honky tonks and listening rooms… the venues where we can go hear their songwriting, the venues where we can hear their band loud and everyone’s having a party and a good time, and we need some venues where people can dance. We need all of that going on and that’s what places like this bring to the table. We need this balance of venues and it’s good to have one of these spots right here in New Braunfels where there’s so much songwriting going on. It’s good to be here.”
Lonestar Music Magazine - April 4, 2016
Joel Hofmann is a honky-tonk preservationist on at least two fronts. For starters, under his management, Central Texas landmark Riley’s Tavern specializes in various stripes of live retro-country and roots-rock. He’s also not afraid to strap on the guitar and make his own contribution to the tradition, and he’s blessed with the self-assured baritone voice to make it ring true. In the company of pros like guitar ace Big John Mills, bassist William “Billy Dee” Donahue, and country piano legend Earl Poole Ball providing solidly unfussy production and no shortage of great licks, his best material takes on a timeless quality. The vulnerability and nuance in numbers both heartbreaking (“This Old House”) and affectionate (“My Golden Nugget”) shows how Hofmann’s grown as a singer and songwriter since his 2008 debut, which was heavier on the outlaw swagger. He’s also adept at picking covers, with the kind-of-obscure Johnny Bush tune “Lillie’s White Lies” hitting just the right classic-country balance of cleverness and heartache in a well-deserved revival. There’s shout-outs aplenty to legends of the past (“Song For George,” “You’ll Have Me to Thank,” “Heaven’s Country Band”), but Hofmann’s reverence shines brighter on the relatable likes of “April’s Fool” and “80 Proof Heartache.” His commitment to the sound is the sincerest tribute of all.
— MIKE ETHAN MESSICK
NEW JOEL HOFMANN AND FRIENDS: LIVE AT RILEY'S SPOTLIGHTS CLASSIC COUNTRY STYLED WITH INFECTIOUS HONKY TONK BEAT
Central Texas resident's brand new album features all-star cast including Lone Star aces Johnny Bush, Bill Kirchen, Tommy Alverson and Tessy Lou Williams
SAN MARCOS, TEXAS – Joel Hofmann delivers personal narratives with an artist's eye (“Leaving Love All Over the Place”) and a novelist's elegance (“Isn't No Good Chain Gang”). Evidence: Joel Hofmann and Friends: Live at Riley's. The flawless new live collection spotlights the rapidly rising singer-songwriter interpreting personal favorites with unbounded enthusiasm (“Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age”). High energy and magnetism map the landscape. “We recorded all the songs live at Riley's Tavern,” Hofmann says, “then we did overdubs in the studio. There's a guest on most tracks.”
Those guests bring unmatched star power to the exciting new collection. “I have Johnny Bush on 'Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age,' Dallas Moore on 'Isn't No Good Chain Gang' and Bill Kirchen plays guitar and I cover his song 'Get a Little Gonner,'” Hofmann says. That's not all: “Tessy Lou Williams and I cover the old song 'Leaving Love All Over the Place,' Tommy Alverson and I do his song 'Buy Me a Bar and Put Me on the Jukebox,' Mike Ethan Messick and I do a song we wrote together called 'Not Borrowed Just Blue.” Additionally, Hofmann includes his self-penned “She's Not Cheating Today” as well as a songs by Mel Tillis, an homage to the man who passed away the day the band recorded.
Fans already know that Hofmann's elegant yet straightforward approach frequently turns heads throughout the state. “Joel Hofmann is as cool as the great old bar he owns called Riley's Tavern,” Alverson says. “With a big old baritone voice and a great band that plays great classic country music, this CD is sure to be a winner. I'm so proud I was able to be a part of it.” “I think of Joel Hofmann like an outlaw in 1880 that traded in his pistols for a guitar,” says Mike and the Moonpies' Mike Harmeier. “You better not mess with him when he plays music in his saloon.”
Hofmann's own tunes deliver keen insight with an everyman's grace. Check out his recent The Shop Sessions. “This house has been standing here at least a hundred years,” he sings on “This Old House.” “Its walls have seen most everything that human nature has to give/But what it saw today, it's a wonder it can stand, looking out that kitchen door as you pack our minivan.” The human condition fully framed in a single stanza. “I wrote 'This Old House' in 20 minutes,” Hofmann says. “It's similar to the song George Jones did called 'Bed of Roses,' about a guy who's at home and his wife is dead.”
The Shop Sessions effortlessly backs traditional country weepers (“80 Proof Heartache”) with sharp narrative songwriting (“The Golden Nugget”). His crack studio band serves as a key backdrop complimenting his sharp songwriting. “Such a treat for me to get to play on The Shop Sessions,” says his legendary roots pianist Earle Poole Ball (Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash). “He has certainly matured as a vocalist and his selection of great songs is perfect for the new CD. So rewarding to feel him putting more of his heart into the performances. A new level of his talent is revealed.”
The same blueprint frames Joel Hofmann and Friends: Live at Riley's. Listen. You'll find emotional depth rarely found in honky tonk dance hall shuffles throughout Hofmann's seamless interpretations. “I don't know about pain and tragedy like some people do,” he says. “We've had bad times and people have passed away, but I haven't had such a painful life as some folks do. Some people have these tragic lives they write about like Billy Joe Shaver, but I just relate to it even though I'm not down and out.”